Masses of primroses with pale, striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides) and blue scillas light up the river bank under the trees in early spring. The view of the floating garden on the water and vistas of the lawn and borders can be best enjoyed from here.

Create the perfect Cotswold garden

Tucked away in the countryside, this historic manor is homes to acres of lush gardens, diverse flowers and plants, and elegant design. Words by Stephanie Mahon. Photographs by Jason Ingram.

A hidden delight of a garden in the grounds of a secluded, Grade-I listed Cotswolds manor house is a treasure trove of hanging woodland, grassy riverside glades, crisp topiary and informal wildflower plantings.

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The garden in brief

What Private garden. Where Gloucestershire. Size Four acres. Soil Stony, thin and free-draining. Climate Warm summers and cool winters. Hardiness Zone USDA 8.

Tucked away deep in the Cotswolds, this ancient manor house of many gables has nestled beside the River Coln since the late 16th century, when it was built by a wealthy wool merchant. The best view, of rolling lawn and ribbons of planting easing their way down to the riverside, can be had from the sunny, south- facing, reclaimed York stone terrace by the house.

The terrace by the house has stone troughs of bulbs and flowering rosemary, with early irises and muscari between the pavers, and tulips lining the wall. The garden features topiary including four golden yews and large, ancient box and yew forms clipped into amorphous shapes
The terrace by the house has stone troughs of bulbs and flowering rosemary, with early irises and muscari between the pavers, and tulips lining the wall. The garden features topiary including four golden yews and large, ancient box and yew forms clipped into amorphous shapes

The summer house

Across the fast-flowing water, on the opposite bank, stands a stately stone summerhouse with a tented hip roof. It was built exactly in line with the door of the house and acts as a focal point at the end of the garden, as well as a good place to enjoy summer garden parties. A high ridge rears up behind it, creating a steep woodland that encloses the garden.

Ablington Manor (7th April 2020)
The summer house and its sun-filled terrace are the final elements of formality before the garden segues into a more naturalised feel surrounded by swathes of daffodils and other spring bulbs that extend down from the bank of woodland behind

It is on this far bank of the river that the summerhouse terrace gives way to a series of groves and copses, with vast swathes of spring-flowering bulbs lighting up the shade under the trees. There is a tapestry of snowdrops and winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) to start the year, followed by broad drifts of common primroses and striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides), and then a carpet of pheasant’s eye daffodils. Snake’s head fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris), and countless tulips in shades of cream, pink and maroon, jostle under specimen acers and blossoming cherry trees.

The garden

Pink tulips line the steps from the terraces down to the lawn, beneath the cool grey-green foliage of a pair of weeping pears (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’) clipped into mushroom standards. Alchemilla mollis threads its way between the pavers.
Pink tulips line the steps from the terraces down to the lawn, beneath the cool grey-green foliage of a pair of weeping pears (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’) clipped into mushroom standards. Alchemilla mollis threads its way between the pavers.

The naturalised schemes are what successfully link the more formal elements of the garden near the house to the surrounding land, blending the edges of the contrasting areas, from the cultivated borders and formal lawn to the wilder riverside and woodland. As you make your way around, you find unexpected spaces to explore and surprises round every corner, through gates or sheltering beyond shrubby camouflage: a secret, traditional walled garden with an oak pergola harbouring a dramatic, sunken quatrefoil at its centre; a circular garden ringed with low yew hedging, featuring a pink granite memorial surrounded by a sea of white iris; a small wooden bridge over the water leading to a floating ‘barge’ bog garden. Overall, this is a masterclass in design and planting to create delight in all who tread its path.